One thing that should never be uttered when holidaying in Athens is the word ‘diet.’ Attempting to go on one when in Athens will simply not work — not unless you have strong willpower to contain yourself against all the delicious treats to be found. From sweets to hearty baked-oven dishes, there is too much temptation when it comes to what is on the menu in Athens.
Here are the must-haves for treating your taste buds to the best of Athens. Better yet, they are the perfect energy boosters for making your way through all the Greek ruins!
If you are the kind of eater who is way too indecisive when it comes to ordering off a menu, then a traditional meze platter is suited to you, serving up the best of all Greek antipasto options. From rice-stuffed grape leaves (dolmades), roasted eggplant dip (melintzanosalata), zucchini fritters, cucumber-yogurt dip (tzatziki), fried hard cheese (saganaki) to the homely tastes of traditional Greek spinach and feta pie, you will find yourself salivating for each flavour.
A healthy Greek breakfast
The French have met their match when it comes to the perfect carb-loaded snack. The koulouri is a sesame-seed bread ring (shaped liked a pretzel) and is popular with locals for being the quintessential breakfast meal on-the-go. Available at bakeries and street food vendors throughout Greece, it comes in many variations, including multigrain or filled with cheese, chocolate spread or tahini.
GREEK COFFEE (ELLINIKOS KAFES)
Just like in Greece’s Mediterranean counterparts, coffee is a way of life here — both hot and cold. Greek coffee is typically a strong brew, served with foam on top and the grounds sitting at the bottom of the cup.
Following in the footsteps of neighbouring Turkey, local favourite coffee house Mokka Coffee prepares coffee using a briki (a small pot with a brass or copper handle) and a hot bed of sand to heat the coffee. Once the small pot is filled with water, coffee grounds and sugar to your liking, the pots are then nestled a few inches deep into a hot bed of sand, which produces consistent heat to warm the coffee grounds. Stir with a metal spoon and enjoy!
If you are in the mood for a dish to really fill you up, moussaka is it! Disguised as a healthy meal, moussaka is a layered eggplant or potato-based dish that often includes ground meat. The top layer features cheese and a béchamel sauce and the whole thing is baked to perfection.
Think of pastitsio as the Greek version of an Italian lasanga. Instead of layering up with pasta sheets, pastitsio consists of Greek macaroni mixed in with a tomato sauce and either beef or lamb mince. It is then topped off with cheese, egg and béchamel sauce and oven-baked. This is best served up at a local Greek taverna where, most likely, the dish would be a secret family recipe passed down over generations.
As summer can be a scorcher, cold coffee is served up on ice, or as the Greeks call it, frappé. Frappé coffee is a foam-covered iced coffee drink made from instant coffee, water and sugar and best served on ice. Accidentally invented by Nescafe representative Dimitris Vakondios in the 1950s, this perfectly chilled drink has remained ever so popular and is available on almost every street corner for only a few euros.
Baklava comes in all forms, shapes and sizes as it is made in every region of Greece. It is a rich, sweet filo pastry dessert and is filled with chopped nuts and its layers are held together with syrup or honey and is filled with syrup or honey. Often served in bite-sized chunks, you will possibly struggle to stop with one bite as it really brings out the sweet life!
WHERE TO FIND THE BEST SNACKS IN ATHENS
The Athens food scene is pack with snacks, most of which you can feel good about because they’re made with healthy ingredients like olive oil, honey, local cheeses and fresh vegetables. (Chemical-laden and processed convenience foods are hardly appealing when you’ve got a cuisine as tasty as that of the Greeks.) If you find yourself walking around the city centre and in want of something to snack on, here are some of the ‘fast food’ choices that Athenians love — and the best shops for tasting them.
Start your morning in Athens with a classic koulouri | Photo by Athens Urban Adventures
In Greece, locals do not usually eat a complete breakfast. Enter koulouri, a circular-shaped bread coated with sesame seeds, and a favourite option for the early morning hours. Served either soft or crispy, it makes for a nice breakfast on foot, so you can sightsee while you snack. You will find koulouri sold on almost on every street corner of the city, but there are two shops where it is particularly good.
Located in the renovated, edgy area of Psiri and very close to the historical centre, The Koulouri of Psiri is small bakery that has been around for more than 15 years. It is also one of the most well-known in Athens, serving delicious, hot and freshly baked koulouri covered with sesame seeds. It’s also open all day, so no worries if you missed breakfast hours. Kairaskaki 23. Tel.: 21 0321 5962
A few minutes’ walk from there in Monastiraki, Oven Sesame is another excellent choice for this traditional Greek snack. Apart from its traditional version, the shop offers koulouri filled with olives or cheese, or other delicious combinations. It is open from 9am to 11pm. Aiolou 17. Tel.: 21 0323 0038
Pies are an essential part of our gastronomic life, and Ariston is one of the best places to try them. Once you reach the shop, you will see different kinds of pies, all beautifully decorated and delicately displayed in the window. Inside the shop, the mouthwatering smells will make you want to try everything: cheese pies, mushroom pies, spanakopita — all made by hand and with love by the owners. The shop has been around since 1910 and still uses its traditional recipes. Don’t miss their cheese pie, gourou, the house specialty with a yeasted, yogurt dough. It’s crunchy and served with a cheese sauce that melts in your mouth. Open from 9am to 6pm. Voulis 10. Tel.: 21 0322 7626
Not far from Ariston, near Syntagma, is Mam, serving cheese pies that have their own unique character. A family business since 1967, it’s one of our Athens tour guides‘ favourite stops. I always pop in to buy a kaseropita whenever I am in the area. This is a cheese pie made with the local kasseri cheese — savoury and very tasty. It has an unusual flavor and is one of the best bites to try downtown. MOM Pesmatzoglou and Stadiou.
Crepes are a snack for every hour of the day, from early in the morning until late at night. And while they may have a French origin, Athenians love them. One off the best spots to enjoy is Amalthea, a beautiful, traditional milk shop in the heart of Plaka, and serving one of the best and most filling crepes. You can order either salty or sweet, but no matter what you choose, the presentation is lovely and the flavours outstanding. Our advice: try the one with chocolate and ice cream. Open from 11am to 1pm. Tripodon 16. Tel.: 21 0322 4635
Aisthḗseis is a cosy little creperie that has been a local favourite for more than 15 years, with a great variety of either savoury or sweet crepes. Not sure what to order? Let the owner choose for you — he always suggests the best combinations once he hears what guests like. With soft jazz in the background and a glass of wine in-hand, you can either enjoy your crepe sitting at the counter or taking it out. Open from 9am to 2am. Kolokotroni 16.
Pssst: Our Taste of Athens Tour takes you to the best loukoumades spot in the city!
Loukoumades are Greek donut balls, deep-fried for a few minutes and then drizzled with honey syrup. One of the country’s favourite snacks for more than a century, this dessert is a firm part of Greek food culture. A great place to try them is the Ktistakis pastry shop. With a history of more than 100 years, Ktistakis’s loukoumades are made using a family recipe — crispy on the outside with syrup on the inside (rather than on top), which gives them a unique taste and texture. They are served with honey, sesame and cinnamon, and are well worth the calories. Open from 9am to 8:30pm. Sokratous 59, Omonia.
Another favourite of ours is near Monastiraki. Lukumades serves this delicious snack either the traditional way with honey and cinnamon, or with chocolate sauce, ice cream or other additions. Open from 8am to 1pm. Aiolou 21. Tel.: 21 0321 0880. (#localsknow tip: hop on our Taste of Athens tour for a visit to Lukumades as well as other foodie hot spots!)
All travellers to Athens know that gyros are the go-to street snack!
If there is one thing you should most definitely eat in Greece, it’s (no surprise) souvlaki or gyros. By far the most famous Greek street food, it can be enjoyed both as a snack or a full meal. The classic version is chopped pork or lamb — roasted vertically on a rotating mini spit — accompanied by fried potatoes, juicy tomatoes, freshly sliced onion, parsley and tzatziki made with yogurt, garlic and cucumber, all wrapped in pita bread. There are, of course, many variations, but this recipe is the most traditional.
Our favourite places downtown are Kostas at Ag. Irene square, which has been feeding locals since 1984, and Savvas at Monastiraki. Kosta’s: Agia Irinis Square, Monastiraki. Savvas: Ermou 91. Tel.: 21 0321 1167.
Vegan and vegetarian snacks
For thoses who prefer vegetarian snacks, Athens offers plenty of excellent choices. The small restaurant of Avocado is a local favourite. All of the ingredients are fresh and the options are many, including pizza, soups, pasta and desserts. Open from 12pm to 11pm and located close to Syntagma Square. Nikis 30. Tel.: 21 0323 7878
Mama Tierra serves vegan cuisine, including vegan burgers, hummus, quinoa salads and vegan moussakas. Open from 12pm to 10pm and located in the heart of Athens. Akadimias 84. Tel.: 21 1411 4420
Dig in to the ‘big five’ of Greek cuisine in their natural habitat on this Athens food tour: ouzo, feta, olives, olive oil, and koulouri, oh my!